The Autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret
Preist, Missionary, Archbishop, and Founder
Part 1 - Chapter 9
Motives for Leaving the Factory
During those three years of my life in Barcelona the former religious fervor of my boyhood days was cooling off. Yet it is true that I received the Sacraments at times during the year; true also that I heard Mass on Sundayas, holy days of obligation and feast days, as well as recited daily the Holy Rosary and other devotions to the Most Holy Mother of God. But compared to my former devotions, they were not so many in number nor so full of fervor. My whole aim in life, my whole ambition, lay in my work at the factory, so much so that I might say without fear of exaggeration that my attention to work approached the nature of a delirium. Who would have thought that this extreme inclination to factory work was the instrument whereby God detached my love from it to Him?
In the last days of my stay in Barcelona, I had the greatest difficulty in trying to get rid of thoughts of work while assisting at Holy Mass on feast days. Although I cannot deny that I liked to think of my work and discuss those matters in connection with it, yet on no account did I welcome such thoughts during Mass and prayer. I used to banish them, saying to myself that I would attend to them later, but for the moment I wished to think of what I was doing and saying. My efforts were useless, for crowds of thoughts came rushing upon me like a wheel that revolves so rapidly that it cannot stop. Besides, there came to me during Mass new ideas, new discoveries, etc. There were more machines in my head than saints on the altar, and all this only contributed to my greater uneasiness. In the midst of this jumble of ideas and confusion, while Mass was going on, there came to my soul, in all their force, those solemn words of the Gospel: What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? The remembrance of this sentence engraved within my soul the deepest of impressions, while the words were like so many arrows wounding my heart, making me think and deliberate on what I should do, but without coming to any definite conclusion. I was like another Saul on the road to Damascus, only there was no Ananias at hand to tell me what to do.
With measured steps I set out in the direction of the house of the Fathers of St. Philip Neri, and, after entering the cloister, I saw an open door. Upon knocking, permission to enter was given me by an old brother named Paul, a very humble and fervent religious to whom I communicated certain resolutions I had taken. Patiently and charitably did this old brother listen to me until I had finished, then he said in all humility: "Sir, I am only a poor lay brother who cannot give you advice, but I will gladly accompany you to a holy and learned priest who will tell you what you ought to do." He then took me to Father Amigo who listened patiently to me, approved of my resolutions to abandon the world, and advised me to resume the study of Latin, which I did.
After that, my fervor for piety and devotion was reawakened, my eyes were opened, and I discerned the perils of soul and body that I had safely avoided.
The Most Holy Virgin Mary preserved me during that last summer from the untimely death of drowning. As I worked very hard from morn till night, my health declined with the coming of summer to such an extent that I lost my appetite. I used to get a little relief by going to the sea to bathe my feet and drink a little of the cool sea-water. One day as I was going with this intention to the "Old Sea," as it is called, which lies at the back of Barceloneta, I was walking on the seashore when a gigantic wave lashed the shore, swept me away with it as it went out to sea with the tide, and with the force of other waves, carried me suddenly far out from the shore. I was struck with surprise to notice that I was floating on top of the waves without knowing how to swim, and after invoking the Holy Mother of God, I found myself safe on shore without even one drop of water having entered my mouth. While I was floating on the crest of the waves I remained as serene as could be, but when I afterwards rose to my feet on the shore, I trembled with frighit at the thought of the danger I had escaped through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin.
Part 2 - Chapter 9
Possessed People and Shams
There was another kind of malady which was much more troublesome, and took up more of my time. It was the cure of persons possessed by devils. In one of the towns where I was preaching missions, many afflicted with this type of infirmity were presented to me by their parents, who requested me to exorcise them. Now, as I was legitimately authorized for this by Holy Orders, I did it. Out of the thousands whom I exorcised, I scarcely found one who was sure that he was possessed by the devil, because I knew that there were other causes for their condition, some physical, others moral, which I shall not mention here.
On the one hand, I perceived that very many of these people had no such devils at all, and on the other hand, seeing that their cases were making me lose too much of the precious time I needed to hear the confessions of those converted by the mission preaching, I concluded that: "It is more necessary that you drive the devil from souls in mortal sin than from bodies, if indeed those bodies do have devils." I thought that those possessions of people by the devil could be a deception of Satan, and so I resolved to stop giving exorcisms, and to take up another plan of action, which was the following: When anyone came to me saying that he was possessed by the devil, I asked him if he really wished to be cured; if he did, and if he thought that by doing what I should prescribe he would be cured, then I would order him to do three things.
Firstly, that all of them should take all things I prescribed with patience and resignation, without ever becoming vexed or impatient, for I had observed that some went into hysterics when they thought of the results of diabolical possession of their souls or of the fits of temper they experienced, but they were calmed and pacified with patience.
Secondly, I ordered them not to drink wine or any other liquor, and I added that this rule was entirely indispensable to drive out this kind of evil spirit. I recommeded this precaution, for I well knew that some of them drank too much, and, to conceal the disorders that followed from overindulgence, blamed the Evil Spirit.
Thirdly, I made them say every day the Our Father and Hail Mary seven times to the Most Holy Virgin, in memory of her seven sorrows. I advised them to make a good general confession of their whole lives, and to receive Holy Communion with all possible fervor and devotion.
After a few days, as a result of all my prescriptions and advice, these people came to thank me, telling me that they were completely free and cured. I do not say that there are no people possessed by the devil, for I know there are, and I have known some of them personally, but what I do say is that they are few. During the course of the mission there were certain people who had been converted and told me in all frankness that they were not possessed by the devil nor had any physical infirmities as a result of this, but they had illusions of being possessed by the Evil Spirit, which they kept up to attract the attention and compassion of other people in order to obtain help, and for a thousand other ends.
A lady of the above type told me that everything she did was with perfect understanding and malice of the will, but that she did things that were so rare and extraordinary that she herself was surprised at them. No doubt, she said, the devil would cooperate and help her - not, however, because the Evil One actually was in possession of her, but because of the malice of her heart, for she knew that what she did could not happen from natural causes. Another lady living in a big city told me that she had so forcefully imagined to herself that she was possessed, that she had been exorcised for a long time. Moreover, during this long period of time in which she pretended that she was possessed by the devil, she had deceived no less than 20 priests who were held oto be the most learned, the most virtuous and zealous in the city.
These are some of the cases I have had of persons who have sincerely repented and been touched by divine grace, and who confessed their misdemeanors and diabolical pretenses with humility and simplicity. What wonder that all this made me tread with caution while dealing with such persons. That is why I finally used the method I have explained.
O my God, how many thanks I owe Thee for having made known to me the artifices of Satan and of sham people! This knowledge of them is a gift given from Thy holy hand. Enlighten me, O Lord, that I may never go astray in the direction of souls, for well I know that whoever needs wisdom has only to ask Thee, and Thou wilt lavish it on him, and give it to him without even reminding him of his unworthiness. But sometimes, because of our pride, and perhaps because of our negligence, we come to lose it, and then we find ourselves bereft of it; yea, even those lose it who are thought to be wise and great theologians.
Part 2 - Chapter 16
Third Means: Catechism of Adults
The catechism of adults is another means which, to my knowledge, has produced an abundance of results, for it remedies that universal ignorance which is more widespread than can be imagined, even among those people who listen frequently to sermons, because preachers generally take for granted that their listeners are instructed in their faith. This is the reason why catechetical instruction is so rare among adult Catholics. Moreover, the laity are thereby instructed in their respective obligations and the manner of fulfilling them.
Every day of the mission except the first (which had its special subject) I treated of Christian doctrine in the exordium of the sermon just before the Ave Maria. I had to do this by myself, as I had no companion accompanying me on the missions. This exordium lasted 20 minutes and treated of the Commandments of God, which I would explain briefly or at length, according to the length of the mission or religious services. I always carried a Vademecum ("go with me") of the Commandments Explained, as well as pamphlets on each Commandment, with analogies and examples for each one. These I used according to the number of days I had to preach in the town, according to the prevailing customs or vices which had to be checked, or the virtues which had to be implanted or caused to be increased, according as I was told beforehand, or what I myself knew. I had to accomodate myself to these circumstances and seek to apply proper remedies.
Although I knew the prevailing vices of any town or place, I did not begin referring to them from the very outset or immediately in my first sermon. Just the contrary; I waited until I had been there a little longer, until I had mastered the dispositions and character of the congregation, and then although I pointed out their vices and irregularities, they did not take offense, but rather repented of them. I had observed that at the beginning, many people would come to the mission attracted by the novelty of the occasion, or motivated by a curiosity which was excited by the desire to see and hear what was going on. If these people were to hear their cherished vices reprehended in strong language at the first hearing, it would be as fatal as touching them to the quick, or as a bitter pill they could not swallow. They would, in consequence, be irritated to such a degree that they would return no more, but would take to reviling the missionaries, the mission, and those who went to hear it.
Therefore I maintain that in such calamitous times as these, the missionary has to conduct himself like one who cooks snails. First he puts them in a pot of fresh water, so that the freshness of the water invites them to come out of their shells. Then as the water keeps getting gradually warmer until it finally boils, the snails die and are then cooked. But if an imprudent person throws the snails into a pot of boiling water, they withdraw so far into their shells that it becomes impossible to draw them out.
This was my method of dealing with sinners steeped in all kinds of vices, errors, blasphemies and impieties. During the first days of the mission I painted virtue and truth in their most vivid and attractive colors without ever saying one word against vice or those addicted to it. The result was that people of the careless or sinful type saw that they were being treated with all indulgence and kindness, and this induced them to come once again or even oftener. Then I would talk to them with more frankness and they would take it well. Finally they would be converted and would go to confession. I found that a great number went to the mission solely out of curiosity, others out of malice to see if they could catch me in my speech, but in the end they would be sincerely converted and would ask for a priest for confession.
In my speech and sermons I had to exercise the most minute caution, because in the same year as I commenced giving missions, i.e., 1840, a civil war was being waged between the Royalists and the Constitutionalists. Great foresight had to be used to as not to speak even one word of politics either for or against any of the warring parties; so it can easily be imagined that I had to be caution personified when preaching in the towns in which both parties were to be found. The reason is evident, for, as I have said, some people came to catch me saying something against them, just as the enemies of Our Saviour in His lifetime on earth came to catch Him in His speech. Thanks be to God, they were never able to find fault with me in this regard.
During those distressful times not only had I to tread warily and cautiously, but things came to such a pass that the name of "mission" could not be given to any religious function, but had to be called a Novena for the Poor Souls, or a Novena in honor of Our Lady Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, or a Novena to the Blessed Sacrament, or a Novena to some saint, etc. so as not to alarm the Constitutionalists who held all authority and government in those cities and towns wherein I preached. If the towns happened to be populous and nine days were not enough, the function was extended for a sufficient number of days.
On the first day it was necessary to treat of the principal end of the function. On the second day I usually began to treat of some doctrinal subject, and this I did all the rest of the days. On the third day I reviewed briefly what I had preached about on the previous day, saying, for example: "Yesterday I explained this and that other point to you..." In this way I reviewed the principal points of my former sermons. Three reasons induced me to do this. Firstly, when people hear the same thing said again, no matter how briefly, they are more vividly impressed by its truth, for as St. Alphonsus de Liguori says, simple people have heads as hard as wood, and in order to make them remember and understand anything well, one has to hammer it in by repetition. Secondly, if some had not heard the sermon of the day before because of duties from which they could not possibly be dispensed, they would have a chance to hear them and understand what was the doctrinal subject of the day before. Moreover, if any had misunderstood the sermon of the former day, they would be able to set things aright by hearing the matter correctly treated for the second time, although it had been done rightly before, only they had misunderstood. It often happens that quite a few do not understand the sermon aright, and when they go home they make it worse. Now in treating of doctrine it is to be desired that all the people understand the explanation of it with all exactitude. The third reason for a succinct repetition lies in the fact that this resume serves as an exordium for the sermon of the day, a fact which benefits the hearer, and facilitates matters for the preacher in that he does not have to seek for an adequate and general idea for his exordium.
Taken from The Autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.
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